Book review of The Emotional life of your Brain

The emotional life of your brain by Richard J Davidson PhD with Sharon Begley                                      

It is I know unusual to review a book before you have even finished reading it, and this is an exceptional book for me in many ways. 

It got my attention early on by noting that

  • The smallest unit of emotion is a state, which lasts for a few seconds.  Patricia and I have followed John Overdurf’s teaching that if a state lasts for more than ninety seconds, you are throwing wood on the fire!  A state is triggered by an experience. 
  • A mood can last minutes, hours, or even days.
  • Something that lasts for years is an emotional trait. 

This book is about Emotional Styles, which are consistent ways of responding, measurable, and which predict the likelihood of particular states, moods, and traits.

Sound like metaprograms in NLP?  They do to me.  In fact I am thinking very hard about including them as metaprograms in our Master Practitioner training starting in June – plenty of time to finish researching and make a final decision!

There are six emotional styles, all on a continuum from one extreme to another, starting with how resilient or otherwise you are.  The definition of resilience – how slowly or quickly you recover from adversity – is very similar to Moshe Feldenkrais’s definition of health – how quickly you recover from shock.  Remember that Richard Bandler had enormous respect for Feldenkrais, publishing one of his books.


I am reading this book as part of my on-going attempts to better understand the opportunities offered to us by neuroplasticity, and one comment that I like is that of course you can change your emotional styles because you have neuroplasticity.

I am also enjoying the authors’ take on Nature or Nurture?  Tests with identical and fraternal twins indicate that many traits have a genetic contribution of 20-60 percent.  AND, whether those genes are expressed (switched on) or not depends entirely on the environment and experiences you have.  They use the metaphor “genes are like a CD collection.  Just because you own a CD, it doesn’t mean that you will ever play it”.

I look forward to finishing this book, better understanding my emotional styles, and deciding if I would like to change any aspects, or not.